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      SCHOOL: Internet Book Selling

I have attempted to start this article several times and finally realized what the problem is. The topic is simply too big to handle in one post.

So... I want to start this part of our "school" by discussing various methods of selling available on the Internet and how to select which ones you will use. And how to put them to best use.

There are three primary sources of direct selling available on the Internet: offers of books in a prepared source list either on mailing lists or Usenet newsgroups; preparation of a web page; and listing with a search service such as ABE, Interloc, or Bibliocity. It should be noted that Interloc is not yet available directly through the Internet, but because it was the first comprehensive search/match service to make full use of computer matching capabilities I would be remiss in not discussing the service when talking about on-line bookselling and collecting.

Let's talk first about offering books for sale via prepared lists. Or posting want lists. There are two prime locations or vehicles for presenting such lists for general perusal: mailing lists such as Biblio or Rare-Books, and Usenet groups such as rec.arts.books.marketplace.

No matter which you use: mailing list or Usenet, or both, you need to prepare your lists carefully. I used to tell the students whom I helped in preparing their college papers that a clean, neat paper virtually guaranteed at least 10 points on any paper. Correct spelling and grammar could easily add another 10 points. Nothing however made up for lack of content.

The same is true of lists of books offered for sale. They should be clean, neat, and easy to read. They should not have strange truncations of lines, nor should one take a casual approach to spelling and grammatical structure. The quality of your merchandise will often as not be judged by the quality of presentation. If you are not certain how something is going to look try sending the email to yourself first. If you are going to get truncation of lines it will happen even in mail you send to yourself. Look at your post with a very critical eye. Ask yourself if it appeals to you, asks you to spend time reading it.

There are some very sophisticated mailing programs on the market now, which can provide spell checking, variable line length and margins, and different type styles. The type styles will govern what appears on your screen, but line and page lengths will make a difference in your outgoing mail. Spending some time experimenting with your mailing program will pay off with better looking, easy-to-read posts.

Email is seductive; and false. It lures you into a sense of familiarity, of casualness. Email lies somewhere between casual informal speech and formal writing. The immediacy of sending an email post may trick us into being less careful about how we present our material. Studies have shown that people pay more attention to email which looks good and easy to read. So the message is: take care in the presentation of your material so that people will take you seriously and spend time reading your offerings or requests.

The fact that you are reading this on Biblio means that you have at least some passing familiarity with mailing lists and how they work. Biblio may be the best mailing list for selling scarce books but it certainly is not the only list. For the very rare books there is the Rare-Books Mailing List, and there is the entire family of lists available through There may be additional mailing lists which I do not know of; I believe Nicholas Wallin just started a Scandinavian list, for example. There are also scholarly mailing lists which you may wish to look into. While you generally cannot post commercial announcements to these lists, if you find a list in an area which is your specialty (i.e. the Emily Dickinson list), you can gain a great deal of information and education about your specialty while making friends with people who are most likely to be your customers.

Being a subscriber to many mailing lists means lots and lots of email to handle. If you decide to do a lot of selling on the Internet via mailing lists I cannot stress too hard the necessity of having a professional level mailing program such as Eudora Pro. Eudora lite and its ilk will simply make you crazy and drive you to give up in short order. They are not designed to handle the flow of lots and lots of mail. They have no filtering and very little editing capabilities, if any.

Tomorrow I will continue on this topic with a discussion of Usenet groups. There are lots of groups out there besides rec.arts.books.marketplace, including lots of places to sell books without violating Netiquette. We'll talk about some of those techniques.


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Last Updated: January 28, 1997
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